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Blog Series 1/3 The Process-Driven journey to Digital Transformation – Creating innovative business models by utilizing a Process-Driven IT Architecture

Overview

This blog is part of a blog series that shows how innovative business models can be built based on a process-driven IT architecture. It shows you a way to approach your digital transformation challenges by using the standard notation BPMN 2.0 and creating process models based on the process-driven approach (in short PDA). PDA is a methodology which helps you to define process models in such a way that they stay flexible and maintainable while actually being lived within your company. Finally, these process models can be automated by executing them within a process-engine.

Find more details in part one of this blog series:
Blog Series 1/3 The Process-Driven journey to Digital Transformation – Creating innovative business models by utilizing a Process-Driven IT Architecture

The whole approach is then being demonstrated using the fictive “Smart Laundry” scenario. Accompany businesswoman Angelina who is re-inventing her business model in part 2 of this blog series:
Blog Series 2/3 The Process-Driven journey to Digital Transformation – Introducing the Smart laundry scenario

In the third and final blog of this series, we take a look behind the scenes of our demo scenario “Smart Laundry”. You will experience the transition from idea to implementation and see how the scenario has been built on top of services inside the SAP Cloud Platform with Workflow Service as the process-engine and heart of the application:
Blog Series 3/3 The Process-Driven journey to Digital Transformation – A look behind the scenes

 

Empower your business by utilizing a Process-Driven IT architecture and the flexibility of the cloud 

It feels like yesterday when globalization was the dominating topic in the media. The big fish kept eating the small fish. Then digitalization kicked in heavily and has been changing the world ever since. As a result of it today, we rather see the fast fish eating the slow fish, independent of their size.

In this blog series, we want to take a look at the broad topic of digitalization in the context of business process management (BPM) and show you how to approach it in a meaningful way. You will learn how you can bring your business up to speed by utilizing BPM(N) and which details matter in order to swim faster than the others.

This first blog covers some of the basic issues, companies are facing when trying to get started with digitalization. It also outlines an approach on how to overcome these issues. The second blog will make use of the proposed approach in a concrete showcase example. The third and final blog offers a look behind the scenes of the showcase, focusing on the technical architecture utilizing SAP Cloud platform services, especially the workflow service component.

So let’s dive right in!

 

Digitalization is changing the market

Digitalization has not only affected our private lives in recent years but is more and more becoming a critical factor for companies around the world. Start-ups are ready to disrupt established markets with fresh ideas and new processes. In order to cope with these changes, companies need to find a way to adapt and compete.

It goes without saying that one major challenge in the first place is to establish the right mindset to enable any form of digitalization within a company. Change needs to be welcomed and not feared. Information silos need to be removed and service orientation and curiosity should be core competencies of all employees.

Eying the processes, in our experience, many companies invest too much time and energy into implementing their standard processes while neglecting their differentiating business processes. Standard processes can usually be covered by standard software pretty well. On the other hand, processes which make you unique and stand out from your competition cannot be part of a standard software by definition and therefore require special attention.

In reality, often there is no transparency about the existing processes at all. Many key processes have been coded years ago and are only partially known in the heads of a few. Even worse: sometimes there is a huge gap between what the stakeholders believe a process is doing and what it actually does.

As a result, over the years many of those processes have grown into inflexible black box IT implementations with a high dependency on a few people who carry all the knowledge. This results in lengthy change procedures which prevent the affected companies from keeping pace with the markets. Also, this can lead to dramatic situations when key staff is leaving.

 

Finding the right approach

As the first step in order to prevent this from happening, companies need to identify and understand their unique selling point (USP) processes. There needs to be transparency and a common understanding of those processes in order to be able to constantly challenge and improve them.

Business and IT need to interact collaboratively with each other in order to transfer this core-knowledge from the heads of a few into common knowledge. We strongly recommend making use of a visual representation of your processes instead of writing lengthy blueprints. From our experience, BPMN 2.0 has proven to be the perfect match to act as a common language between all participants here. Basics are not only learned easily, but the standard also offers the perfect base for automation of your process-models in so-called process-engines later. Therefore using BPMN 2.0 as a foundation to describe and document your processes transparently is a crucial step in building a flexible process-driven IT architecture.

Creating your process models in a sustainable and meaningful way can be tough though. Details are important. The key to success is to keep technical implementation details separated from the core business process. It is also helpful to make use of re-usable micro-processes which are exchangeable in the future.

Figure: Micro-segmentation of processes enables flexibility for the future

It is vital to choose the right methodology when designing and cutting your process models. We recommend following the process-driven approach as defined by Dr. Volker Stiehl. Following this approach leads to process models which remain flexible and maintainable at the same time. To explain this approach in detail would go beyond the scope of this blog, therefore we will leave you with three pointers:

By applying the mentioned methodology, you will gain transparency and clarity about your USP processes, which will be documented in BPMN 2.0 while following the PDA-approach. This is already a huge step forward since it enables you to discuss and adapt your business processes constantly. From here you can now think about (further) digitalization of your USP processes and use different methods to analyze them.

For example, if your USP processes are in the area of sales and distribution you might use methods like customer journey analysis where you map out all the customer touch points for a specific persona along your process chains. For each touch point, you might now go into deeper analysis of the process behind it. Think about which pain points exist for the specific persona you are looking at, how to resolve them and how well the touch points integrate with each other.

Once you identify a process along the chain which can be improved, you are now in a position to do so. Imagine doing this exercise without transparency about your own processes… it would be impossible.

By the way: A great way to analyze the “As-Is” is to use Process Mining tools in order to see how your processes are actually running and which variants exist. In order to use Process Mining, your current processes don’t even need to be running based on BPMN.

An alternative approach to tackle digitalization is to try and disrupt your own company by coming up with a completely new purpose. Try to think ahead five or ten years from now and imagine what your industry will look like. Which role do you want your company to play and what kind of processes and services do you need to create in order to get there? First, clarify the “What” and “Why” and then think about the “How” – e.g. by using methods like design thinking. Utilize BPMN to sketch out different ideas and analyze them within your digital lab or with external incubators. Based on the created models you might also build lightweight prototypes which can be adjusted and tried out quickly thanks to the power of process-engines – which brings us to another major advantage of BPMN 2.0: automation.

 

The supreme discipline: Automation

So now you have a common understanding of your processes and are able to analyze and adjust them. Well done! You are already ahead of most others.

What’s next? Well, there still is a long way to go. How will you transfer your process model into execution? Is it all manual? Maybe, but most likely you will aim for automation of your processes… in the end this is a major part of digitalization, isn’t it?

But how to handle the actual implementation? There are several possibilities. Do you just hand your process models over to your IT-staff to code along? Will you use loosely coupled micro-services using an event-driven architecture? Or just outsource the implementation completely and get back a black box implementation again?

Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages for all mentioned options. But we need to keep in mind our main goal: Gaining speed by providing transparency and flexibility. This does not only concern our process documentation but of course also our process implementation.

You might remember that process-engines have been mentioned before. Basically, they allow to transfer your process models into execution and therefore represent a model-based approach. The big advantage here is that business and IT don’t only talk the same language during process design, but also during process execution. This creates true transparency and acts as an enabler for deciding on- and implementing process changes quickly.

Technically speaking, the procedure is to take your PDA-ready BPMN 2.0 models, import them into your process development environment and enrich them with some configuration and technical artifacts like data types, mappings, user interfaces, interface calls and so on. Afterwards, you have a runnable process which can be deployed to a process engine. Once a process is running, you always have full transparency where your process currently stands, which path it has taken and what data it is using.

Again, you could even go a step further and run Process Mining tools, which for example allow creating heat maps across lots of process calls in order to show you which process paths are frequently used and which ones might never be taken.

In an SAP-centric environment, you can choose between two process-engines: CP Workflow (a service in the SAP Cloud Platform) and SAP Process Orchestration (an on-premise solution). Since cloud-based applications typically offer a higher degree of speed and flexibility, let us for now focus on the functionalities available there.

Using SCP Workflow to model and deploy BPMN 2.0-based business processes lays the foundation of adjustable and quickly automatable business processes which are understood by business and IT. In combination with SCP Business Rules customers can enhance the flexibility of their processes even further since this service enables them to maintain their process rules within the specialized business departments directly. In order to create more complex integrations in cross-system processes, you might also make use of Cloud Platform Integration which offers the full variety of integration options that you would expect from a modern integration platform. For user-centric processes, you can mock and align your UIs first using services like BUILD. The UI mockups are then being transferred to the SCP WebIDE where the full functionality is being implemented. The deployed UIs are then being referenced inside your process models. As a result, users can be integrated into your processes for making decisions using responsive HTML5-based Fiori applications. The central entry point for each user is his personalized dashboard (Fiori Launchpad) which is running based on the Portal Service in SCP. Here users have central access to all their current tasks within a central task inbox (Fiori MyInbox) and they also have direct access to all Fiori applications relevant to them.

Having these services available in the SAP Cloud Platform lowers the initial hurdles for customers to get started with creating process-driven IT architectures enormously. In the on-premise world, customers were required to make a pretty heavy pre-invest and have the infrastructure ready even for simple proof of concepts. Individual processes can now be automated much quicker and with less initial effort due to the easy and flexible service activation in the cloud.

You can see how all these services are wired together and how the result looks and feels like in the next parts of this blog.

 

Be ahead of the market

We expect the cloud adaption to rise significantly within the next few years. If you combine this with the fact that more and more companies will need to invest into topics around digitalization and process automation, you can see that cloud services like CP Workflow and CP Business Rules or CP Integration will play a key role on the IT-roadmap of many companies.

In order to stay ahead of your competition, now is the right time to look into your processes and your technology. Is your company prepared to start the journey into digitalization?

Interested in further details about the capabilities of our methodology and the new SAP technologies? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

In the next blog of this series, we will see how the approach described in this blog can be put to use by looking at a practical example. See you there!

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